The Government side used its one-seat majority in the National Assembly on Wednesday to throw out a motion brought by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change Opposition that sought to impose a timeline within which the Clerk and the Speaker of the National Assembly would deal with questions and motions submitted.
The motion, which was presented by Opposition Member of Parliament, Ganesh Mahipaul sought to amend Parliamentary Standing Orders 20 (2) and (3), and 27 (2).
Among the things the Opposition wanted to change was Standing Order 20 (2) to say: “Questions and Motions submitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly must be submitted to the Speaker of the National Assembly within four (4) days of receipt, who shall consider the Questions and Motions.”
The Opposition also wanted Standing Order 20 (3) to state: “If the Speaker is of the opinion that any question of which a member has given notice to the Clerk or which a member has sought permission to ask without notice is an abuse of the right of questioning or infringes any of the provisions of this or any other Standing Order, he or she may within four days direct: (a) that it be printed or asked with such alternations as he or she may direct or (b) that the Member concerned be informed that the question is inadmissible.”
And the amendment to Standing Order 27 (2) read: “If the Speaker is of the opinion that any notice of motion which has been received by the Clerk of the National Assembly infringes the provisions of any Standing Order or is in any other way out of order, he or she may, within four days, direct: (a) that the Member concerned be informed that the notice of motion is out of order; or (b) that the notice of motion be entered in the Order Book with such alternations as he or she may direct.”
Government Member of Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin argued that it was the Speaker’s prerogative to determine how to run the House. This, he noted, was solidified when the High Court ruled backed in January in a case brought to challenge the suspension of several Opposition MPs over their actions during the December 2021 uproar in the House, that it “ought not to interfere” with the “internal proceedings” of the National Assembly.
According to Datadin, imposing a timeline on the Clerk and the Speaker is fettering their discretion on executing their constitutional duties.
“They speak in this House about wanting the high ideals and lofty goals of transparency… Transparency means that you allow the Speaker and the Clerk to do [their] jobs. That’s what transparency means, not that you fettered the discretion and tell them how to act, tell them when to act…,” he stated.
Datadin went on to add that, “…the imposition of four days is really and truly an attempt at corruption masquerading as transparency; that is what it is. Make no mistake, an aggressive timeline like four days is intended to put pressure on the decision-maker, is intended to influence and intimidate the decision-maker and should never be countenanced in this House.”
Meanwhile, Opposition MP Annette Ferguson, in her contribution to support the motion, highlighted several instances when questions and motions submitted by their side of the House took months before they were placed on the order paper. Similarly, she outlined the last-minute notice about faults with their motions that end up languishing for months on the order paper.
“Today, we, on this side of the Assembly, have demonstrated that we are constructive, and have explicitly provided solutions and recommendations on how the proposed amendments to Standing Orders… can assist in strengthening parliamentary democracy which will aid us as representatives of constituents and constituencies in providing adequate and timely feedback to the people of Guyana,” she posited.
Ferguson further noted that while the Government’s side has complained about the four-day timeline, it failed to provide an alternative that could have been considered.
However, Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira noted that the Opposition’s sudden want for democracy would not remove the stain of the 2018-to-2020 period when the APNU/AFC Government violated the Constitution as it failed to call elections within the three-month stipulated timeline after the passage of the no-confidence motion against the coalition regime in December 2018, and then the five-month delay after the March 2020 elections.
Teixeira, who is also the Government’s Chief Whip in the National Assembly, further maintained that the Opposition motion has no justification and is against parliamentary rules.
“This motion does not warrant the support of this side of the House because to limit any Speaker or Clerk to four days, I think, is wrong. It goes against the principles and parliamentary procedures that we allow ourselves, as in all cases, to be subjected to higher authorities to examine what we do…
“That’s not how the Standing Orders work… You can’t say four days for the Clerk and the Speaker to respond and then say “well, if they can’t make it, that’s okay they can take more time… You’re bringing in amendments to restrict the Clerk and the Speaker to four-day limit on examining the questions… and you’re treating the two highest positions in this House as post boxes – we mail it in and they’re forced now to deliver it; that’s not how it works,” Minister Teixeira contended.
Meanwhile, MP Mahipaul argued that his motion has no sinister motives, but was simply aimed at ensuring that questions were answered in the interest of the Guyanese people.
“It was a simple motion brought before this House for support from their side. There is no ulterior motive and it simply seeks to provide the people of Guyana timely answers to their questions and to their request to their motions,” he declared.
The Opposition parliamentarian went on to notify the House that they intend to bring another motion that will reduce the number of days it takes questions and motions to move from the notice paper to the order paper, which outlines the schedules for each sitting of the National Assembly.
Mahipaul insisted that, “These actions are not things of sinister motive… It is simply to have time and effective and efficient responses to questions and issues the ordinary citizens have and will like them to be answered.”
Nevertheless, the Opposition motion was eventually dismissed on Wednesday but not before a roll call had to be conducted which resulted in 34 MPs voting against it and 31 in favour.
This voting was the first time that newly-appointed representative for the Joinder List, MP Dr Asha Kissoon, had to vote since entering the National Assembly. She voted against the motion. (G8)